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Originally published Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Child-porn case snarled by probe of 3rd attorney

Attorneys in the federal child-porn prosecution of millionaire Lake Tapps pilot Weldon Marc Gilbert are battling over evidence seized in an unusual raid on the home and office of another of Gilbert's lawyers.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Attorneys in the federal child-porn prosecution of millionaire Lake Tapps pilot Weldon Marc Gilbert are battling over evidence seized in an unusual raid on the home and office of another of Gilbert's lawyers, who is now under investigation for witness tampering in the case.

Motions are flying over the issue in the prosecution of Gilbert, who the government believes has tried to contact and influence the testimony of some of his alleged young victims or their families. Gilbert's lawyers say prosecutors, in their zeal to put the former UPS pilot behind bars, are tampering with the inviolable attorney-client privilege.

At the center of it all is an unnamed attorney whose law office and home were raided by FBI agents in May. The warrants and their supporting affidavits are sealed; however, recent filings in the Gilbert case reveal that the lawyer is suspected of attempting to contact the central witness in Gilbert's pending criminal trial and for failing to report knowledge of a felony to authorities.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Rogoff did say the so-called "third-party" attorney is not one of the two lawyers representing Gilbert in the criminal case: John Henry Browne or his partner, Emma Scanlan.

Rogoff said the third-party attorney has not been charged, and that an investigation is ongoing.

However, a grand jury in Seattle earlier this month issued a superseding indictment against Gilbert, adding two charges of obstruction of justice that apparently stem from his alleged efforts from jail to contact and convince the witness not to cooperate.

The indictment alleges Gilbert videotaped what prosecutors have called a "sadistic spanking fetish" involving more than a dozen boys. He is accused of using his wealth — court documents show he's a multimillionaire — to attract and groom his young victims by giving them airplane rides and taking them on exotic trips.

Gilbert was arrested last year after a young man who said he had endured years of Gilbert's abuse went to the FBI because he feared Gilbert was turning his attention to his little brother.

Last winter, officials at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac seized letters to the alleged victims from Gilbert's cell. The investigation led to the third-party attorney, who had represented Gilbert in business matters.

According to pleadings, the attorney attempted to set up a meeting between one of the young victims and Gilbert's business partner, and discussed sending a Bible to the boy. Jeff Pratt, a vice president at Spencer Aircraft in Puyallup identified as the business partner, said he had been ordered by prosecutors not to talk.

Investigating a defense attorney is fraught with legal peril and it's not done often here, said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle. Strict guidelines are followed, and the search warrants had to be approved by a high-ranking official in the Department of Justice's Criminal Division in Washington, D.C., she said.

"It's not unheard of, but it's not common," Langlie said.

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Such searches prompt special procedures to ensure that the attorney-client privilege is not violated. In this case, so-called "taint agents" and government lawyers not involved in the Gilbert prosecution conducted the search and were prohibited from discussing what they found with agents and lawyers who are.

Moreover, all of the seized items were given to presiding U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelley Arnold, who decided what the government could see.

But Browne argues that the government made a fundamental error in deciding that the third-party attorney was not involved in the criminal case. Gilbert should have been allowed to assert his attorney-client privilege, but wasn't.

"The government has made a lot of problems for itself," Browne said.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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